‘Brexit means Brexit!’. The words of the
former Prime Minister, Theresa May, in June 2016, on the steps of the UK
Parliament. But what does Brexit mean?
Hello, my name is Adam. I’m a first year
History PhD student here at The University of Manchester and my research aims
to understand the historical origins of euro-scepticism in the UK. The
2016 referendum produced a political crisis. The Vote Leave campaign narrowly
‘won’ 51.9 to 49.1 on a turnout of 72%. Questions of what it means to be a
member of the EU, a member of The Conservatives, and much more broadly the
British democratic system have been thrown into focus.
For me, my interest in political history was
sparked at a young age. I grew up with the backdrop of the Iraq War — campaigning
as a part of the ‘Stop the War’ coalition. I was able to see how Politics has
the ability to reshape our world, for better and for worse. Understanding the
decisions taken in Westminster – and in constituencies – is therefore important
I am at the beginning of my research into euro-scepticism
but already there are some important questions that have emerged. For example,
why did the UK government, at the time, decide to use an open-question
referendum rather than, say, a referendum on specific outcomes? Euro-scepticism
is a subject that crosses traditional political boundaries but why? How far did
‘political education’, or lack of education, play in the mind of the voter? Did
one group particularly benefit from worries of Europeanism? How far did the
media present an unquestioning approach to scare stories?
I am in a slightly unusual position to be studying Brexit.
As a historian, there is a tendency to look to events that are settled,
although may be contested by historians! Yet, with the near daily developments
with the UK’s exit from the European Union there is a wealth of new material
emerging. This helps keep my research current, but it also throws up its own
challenges in how I approach the topic.
Understanding political decisions is important for me. I
returned to Manchester to complete a Master’s Degree (immediately before this
Ph.D.) after a number of years in the ‘professional world’. It gave me an
insight into the concerns and ambitions of businesses, yet I knew that I wanted
to further explore my curiosity for History. After decided that I would leave
my job, I quickly rediscovered my love of learning and had a wonderful
opportunity to meet some amazing people (both academics and friends) who
encouraged me to pursue my interest in historical politics further.
Ultimately, I would really like my project to contribute to
a much more detailed understanding of how and why political decisions are
taken. In this, I hope to contribute through various policy platforms and forums
with the aim of ensuring that regional voices are included as much as ‘dominant
narratives’ of the ‘Westminster Bubble’.
Looking for further information about Brexit can feel a
little overwhelming, trust me. However, understanding the origins of
euro-scepticism allows us to narrow the field a little and there are some
brilliant resources and blogs which help unpack the subject. For my experience,
an excellent starting place is the ‘Britain in a Changing Europe’ Research
Project run by Professor Anand Menon (https://ukandeu.ac.uk/).
As an academic resource, it is thoroughly fact-checked and many of the
contributors regularly appear in the media.
For a little further clarification of key terms and some of
the ideas often discussed alongside Brexit (such as sovereignty, trade policy,
and the Northern Irish ‘backstop’) see the London School of Economics and
Political Science Brexit Blog (https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/).
Another resource that I regularly use is the BBC’s fantastic ‘Brexitcast’ (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05299nl).
Presented as a podcast (although now on TV as well) the podcast is a really
informal way to get the inside track on news and gossip from the UK and Europe.
My name is Charlotte Coull, and I’m a third year PhD student
at the University of Manchester in the History Department. I did both my
undergraduate degree and my Master’s degree at Manchester before being lucky
enough after applying to be offered funding by the History department to
complete my PhD here.
I look comparatively at the history of archaeology in India
and Egypt in the nineteenth century. Many people walk away with the idea that I
am an archaeologist when I first explain my topic to them - however I am most
definitely a historian and there is
no digging involved in my work!
One of the most interesting things about research is that
your topic and focus can change over time; as you read more, you become more
aware of what has already been said about your subject, and most importantly
you start to see different ways of looking at things and different ideas to
pull out of your original material. This sounds intimidating, and you do need
to be careful that you eventually find a path and stick with it (otherwise you
will never get any work done!), but it can also be exciting. You have the
opportunity to create something completely unique that will stand out from the
When I started my PhD, I knew I wanted to look at
archaeology over a broad time and I knew I wanted my project to be comparative.
My idea was to look for changes over time whilst looking at how and
archaeologists reacted differently to what they found in India and Egypt - did
they prefer Egyptian artefacts to Indian ones for example? All that hasn’t
really changed. But what I have done is focused on stone.
Nineteenth century archaeologists in both countries
discovered lots of things, including bones and pottery, but it was stone that
really caught their attention in the form of temples, tombs, monuments and
megaliths. Stone can be hundreds, maybe thousands, of years old; it can be in
ruins or almost perfect; it can be huge, intimidating and strange because the
people that used it, the people who built things from it in ancient times, are
gone and cannot explain it. Take a look at the images here: this is the stone
nineteenth century archaeologists would have found in India and Egypt, but unlike
today they did not have technology like radiocarbon dating to tell them how old
it was. They often did not know who built things or how.
Three years ago, I didn’t know this. I had not done the
reading that told me that archaeologists in the 1800s were so perplexed by
stone - it was only as my project progressed that I started to notice this and
plan my work around it. Now my whole PhD thesis is looking at how
archaeologists knew what they knew about Indian and Egyptian stone - or what
they didn’t know.
To do this I work mainly with published material from the
nineteenth century. I look at the language archaeologists used to talk about
the sites they studied and the information they presented in these books and
journal articles to their fellow archaeologists. If an archaeologist has
written about how he found Indian temples confusing because they look so
different to what he is used to in Britain, then it’s in my work; if an
archaeologist has written about how amazingly old the Egyptian pyramids are and
how spectacular it is to look at something so ancient, then it’s in my work.
History is a subject with so much potential to let you get
creative and push the boundaries - your work can evolve with your thinking and
reflect your changing interests!
http://trowelblazers.com/ - a wonderful website with blog
posts about female pioneers in archaeology and other science fields. Click on
the articles tab and explore! I would particularly recommend Hilda Petrie and
Adela Catherine Breton.
http://www.asi.nic.in/ - not many people know much about
India's archaeological history. This is the website of the Archaeological
Survey of India- take a look at the 'photo gallery' tab and check out the
massive variety of Indian archaeological sites!
My name is Jemma and I am a second year PhD student in the
History of Science, Technology and Medicine (HSTM). I took a somewhat roundabout route to this
subject area. After finishing my A-Levels, I didn’t really know what I wanted
to study at university. I enjoyed both Biology and Chemistry so ended up
applying for Biochemistry at the University of Manchester in 2012. With a
number of the bioscience degrees at Manchester, there is the option to do them
as a 4-year undergraduate rather than the standard 3 – with the additional year
being spent working in industry. By the time my placement year came around I realised
that, whilst I found the theory and topics fascinating, I hated lab-based
research. As a result, I chose to spend a year working at the Manchester
Museum’s herbarium – the botany department of the Museum. My project with them
centred on a 19th
century medical collection called the Materia
Medica, which contains plants, animal and mineral products that used to be
employed in the teaching of pharmacy at Owens College (later this became the
University of Manchester). I became obsessed! I changed my degree for my final
year to Biology with Science and Society, which is basically a Biology degree
with HSTM modules, and did my final year dissertation on the domestic use of
opium (the plant extract which morphine comes from) by women in the 19th
century. HSTM has been a great way to combine my love of history and science.
After my undergraduate degree, I received a 1+3 studentship
to do my Masters and PhD in HSTM at Manchester. My Masters dissertation
returned to the Materia Medica collection as I compared pharmacy education in
Manchester and London in the 19th century. In 2018 I started my PhD,
looking at the place medicinal plants had in 20th century pharmacy.
Pharmaceuticals drugs today are often presented as being
created intentionally – often synthetically by chemical processes – and somehow
separate from traditional medicinal knowledge. However, many drugs still have a
basis in herbal medicine. So how did this perception come about? Why do we view
modern drugs as being divorced from traditional knowledge practices? My
research therefore focuses on medicinal plants, specifically within the context
of conventional pharmacy, during the 20th century. It examines how
plants were used as well as perceived following the rise of synthetic
pharmaceutical drugs to present a more complicated history of drugs than a
simple forward progression from traditional herbal knowledge of the 19th
century to modern, synthetically produced drugs of the late 20th.
I really enjoy my research, but I don’t spend all my time
just doing the PhD. I am a strong supporter of academics not just doing
research but also engaging people with their work. I therefore split my time
between doing my PhD and other activities (though with the emphasis on my PhD
of course). Along with being a Widening Participation Fellow, I am a Heritage
Guide for the University and still volunteer at the Manchester Museum’s
Herbarium. At the Museum, I often get involved with their events as well as designing
activities myself (such as an activity on medicinal plants used by the Romans -
I am also a big fan of interdisciplinary collaboration, having worked with
members of the pharmacy department as well as artists on public engagement
activities. My current project is setting up a podcast series, called In
Pursuit Of Plants, dedicated to sharing cross-disciplinary research on
medicinal plants – from history to biophysics – with the public. Along with
other PhD students, I even co-organise conferences to promote interdisciplinary
connections amongst Masters and PhD students at the University of Manchester.
Whilst it is important to balance these so they don’t detract from my research,
doing things beyond the PhD is very rewarding and a great way to get others
excited about the topic.
Links to the In Pursuit of Plants podcast series and website
can be found via our twitter page: @IPOP_Podcast
History of Science, Technology and Medicine is such a
diverse field, to find out more about the types of research conducted in our
PhD group check out our website: https://chstmphdblog.wordpress.com/people/
For a look at some of the public engagement I have done, you
can read this blog post (plus see the final video!) of a collaborative project
with a creative from Reform Radio: https://chstmphdblog.wordpress.com/2018/10/12/mixlab-2018-a-public-engagement-experiement/
You can also follow me on twitter for more on my research
(plus lots of photos from the Manchester Museum): https://twitter.com/PlantHistorian
For more on the Biology with Science and Society
with Industrial/Professional Experience see: http://www.chstm.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/
My name is Erin Beeston and I’m a part-time PhD Student at
the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) at the
University of Manchester and the Science Museum Group. I’m working on a
collaborative doctoral award, which means I work across two institutions: the
University of Manchester and Museum of Science and Industry (MSI), Manchester.
I began my academic career at the University of Manchester
in 2004, when I started a History undergraduate degree. During this time, I
realised I’d like to work in heritage. The University Careers Service suggested
I gain experience by volunteering and I began a placement at the Manchester
Museum’s Herbarium making digital records of historic botany specimens. Then I
studied for a master’s degree in Art Gallery and Museum Studies whilst working
part-time in museums. I used my academic knowledge, skills from my university course
such as organisation, time management, accurate record keeping and presentation
skills along with what I learnt though working and volunteering to start a
career in museums. I worked at Salford and then Bolton Museum, mostly with
social and industrial history collections. Although I enjoyed my work, I was
interested in studying for PhD as I am passionate about research. I saw an
advertisement by the Science Museum Group for a PhD student to work on the
history of uses and perceptions of Liverpool Road Station (the site of the Museum
of Science and Industry). As I had previously worked at MSI as an assistant
presenter (doing fun things like children’s activities and helping with science
shows), I was keen to research the museum’s rich history and applied for the
The focus of my research is Liverpool Road Station, which
dates form 1830 and is the oldest railway station in the world. Whilst the
early history of the station is well known, for many decades after the
passenger service (1830-1844) it was a freight station – which has been
overlooked by historians. I am working on both the history of the site and
exploring how it was transformed into the museum during the 1970s and 1980s. I
often visit archives to view primary sources about the site, these can be
documents, maps or other visual sources. I have been to London to visit National
Archives, to the National Railway Museum in York, viewed archives in Liverpool,
Chester, Manchester and Preston. I have also recorded interviews called oral
histories with people who either worked at the railway station or played a part
in rescuing it and making the museum. This research is important to the museum,
who are using findings to present the history of their buildings to the public,
particularly the lesser known freight story. The results of my thesis are
informing work on new galleries at MSI. I enjoy finding out new stories and
ways of looking at the history of the site and discussing this with staff at
the museum and the public. During my PhD, I have shared my research with other
postgraduates, academics and the public through conferences and talks. I’ve
even attended a summer school in Budapest! It’s a brilliant journey, finding
out new things and developing ideas and arguments along the way.
I undertook an undergraduate degree in History at the
My master’s was at the Centre for Museology: <http://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/masters/courses/list/01100/ma-art-gallery-and-museum-studies/>
My first experience working in a museum was at the
Manchester Museum’s Herbarium where I learnt about record keeping, digitisation
and collections care: <https://herbologymanchester.wordpress.com/about/>
Here you can find out more about the Science Museum Group’s
And the focus of my research - the Museum of Science and
Industry, Manchester: <https://www.msimanchester.org.uk/>
At CHSTM we write about our work for this blog: <https://chstmphdblog.wordpress.com/>
For example, I wrote a blog about my summer school
experience at the CEU in Budapest! <https://chstmphdblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/cities-and-science-summer-school/>
Here you can find more about CHSTM and the modules available
to undergraduates: <http://www.chstm.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/>
My name is Charlotte Coull, and I'm a second year PhD
student at the University of Manchester, based in the History department. I did
both my undergraduate and masters degrees at Manchester, both in History, and
was extremely excited to be offered both a PhD place and funding (the History
department's own Elsie Farrar award) to continue my studies here. As part of my
PhD I also lead seminars with undergraduate students, and have chosen to work
as a Widening Participation Fellow because I firmly believe everyone should
feel able to go to university if they wish.
In the future I'm hoping to get into public History, and
connect with people about my research and encourage them to explore history in
general, as knowledge is for everyone!
Many people walk away with the idea that I am an
archaeologist when I first explain my subject area to them- what I actually
do is look at the history of archaeology in the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, with no digging involved! I study the work of British archaeologists
in India and Egypt during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; I want
to know how they decided what to dig up and study, how they wrote about the
artefacts they found, and what they did with those artefacts afterwards (are
they in Britain, are they in a museum basement, or did they stay in countries
they were discovered in?). I also want to know how discovering the history of
Egypt and India changed the way Britain thought about her own history, and why
Ancient Egypt is so present in our minds today (think Pyramids, mummies etc)
whereas Ancient India is not so well known.
Studying two countries may seem intimidating at first, but I
find you can use comparative history to fully open up an area to explore: for
example, I want to know what is was about Egypt in the nineteenth century that
influenced British archaeologists to behave so differently to archaeologists in
India, and what this can tell us about how archaeology as a discipline evolved.
My work is also very interdisciplinary- I use aspects of the history of
science, intellectual history and museology alongside colonial history and
other ideas. One of my supervisors is from the History department, the other is
from the Centre for the History of Science Technology and Medicine. I find
interdisciplinary history incredibly exciting- why stick with one way of doing
things, when you can craft your own style using your favourite aspects from
I work with a variety of historical sources- I have to be
creative with finding the material I study! I can go from looking at the
personal letters of a famous scholar from the nineteenth century in the British
library, to looking at museum records of object acquisitions and displays, to
spending time on the internet looking for nineteenth century academic books
that have been digitised. I have also recently decided to look at images as
part of my research- so last time I was at the British library I spent a
morning marvelling at early twentieth century photographs of archaeological
digs in India.
I find people often see history as a static and unmoving
subject- you pick a topic and are trapped in the library with dusty books
looking at that topic forever. Nothing could be further from the truth! History
is such a varied and broad subject, with so many different ways of approaching
it; you can really get creative with your thinking and push the boundaries.
What you find will never cease to surprise, and in some cases amaze you!
- a wonderful website with blog posts about female pioneers in archaeology
and other science fields. Click on the articles tab and explore! I would
particularly recommend Hilda Petrie, and Adela Catherine Breton.
- not many people know much about India's archaeological history. This is the
website of the Archaeological Survey of India- take a look at the 'photo
gallery' tab and check out the massive variety of Indian archaeological sites!